A quite posh afterlife

Times Staff Writer

"I hope I've finished dying today -- two times is enough!" tenor Roberto Alagna joked as he joined board members of Los Angeles Opera for a reception and dinner at the Regency Club following his debut at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. At Placido Domingo's behest, the opera star came from Paris at the last minute to perform in "A Concert of Passion & Poetry," a heavy-hearted pastiche that included Acts 3 and 4 of Massenet's "Werther" and Act 4 of Verdi's "Otello." "He not only died twice, he had to sing at the same time -- and once on his side," quipped board President Frank Baxter.

But after all the operatic mayhem, Alagna, frequently referred to as "the Fourth Tenor," emerged from his performance feeling exhilaratingly alive. "For me, it was fantastic, a miracle, because it was a real adventure to come here and learn the repertoire at the last moment," he said in a captivating French accent. "It is a very heavy repertoire, very strange. You don't sing 'Werther' and 'Otello' on the same night. It was a big pressure on me -- but at the same time, very exciting."

Having performed in Domingo's stead (the company's artistic director has been suffering from a severe bronchial infection), Alagna joined concert co-star Frederica von Stade in the 17th-floor club's Hunt Room to drink in kudos and the hazy views of Westwood and beyond. Sponsored by opera Chairman and Chief Executive Marc Stern and his wife, Eva, the private bash Jan. 11 included a sit-down supper -- broiled veal chop, warm apple galette -- at tables strewn with rose petals. "I wanted to honor the commitment of our board and celebrate what we did onstage today," said Marc Stern. "The support we get is unparalleled."

Enjoying the ebullient crowd, Von Stade, who played Charlotte to Alagna's Werther, said it was a thrill to sing for the first time with the 39-year-old lyric tenor -- "I don't mind too much that I could be his mother!" And while she found Alagna "one of the dearest people," she was "crushed" when she learned Domingo was unable to perform, she said. "Like the rest of the world, I adore Placido. There is the Grand Canyon and then there is Placido. There is Mt. Everest and then there is Placido. He makes such a terrific effort for artists."

The opera company has plans to parlay the efforts of Domingo and its board into making "the Los Angeles Music Center the premier opera house in the world," Baxter said. "We need to expand the repertoires and do some renovations over time, but that's what we'll do, and sooner rather than later."

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